Saint Gregory of Nyssa here provides a moving explanation of a phrase from Psalm 118 that is a traditional refrain for the great resurrection feast known as Great Pascha or Easter: This is the Day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Gregory ties this together with the concept of the resurrection occurring on the 8th day, the beginning of a new creation, the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.
The reign of life has begun, the tyranny of death is ended. A new birth has taken place, a new life has come, a new order of existence has appeared, our very nature has been transformed! This birth is not brought about by human generation, by the will of man, or by the desire of the flesh, but by God.
If you wonder how, I will explain in clear language. Faith is the womb that conceives this new life, baptism the rebirth by which it is brought forth into the light of day. The Church is its nurse; her teachings are its milk, the bread from heaven is its food. It is brought to maturity by the practice of virtue; it is wedded to wisdom; it gives birth to hope. Its home is the kingdom; its rich inheritance the joys of paradise; its end, not death, but the blessed and everlasting life prepared for those who are worthy.
This is the day the Lord has made – a day far different from those made when the world was first created and which are measured by the passage of time. This is the beginning of a new creation. On this day, as the prophet says, God makes a new heaven and a new earth. What is this new heaven? you may ask. It is the firmament of our faith in Christ. What is the new earth? A good heart, a heart like the earth, which drinks up the rain that falls on it and yields a rich harvest.
In this new creation, purity of life is the sun, the virtues are the stars, transparent goodness is the air, and the depths of the riches of wisdom and knowledge, the sea. Sound doctrine, the divine teachings are the grass and plants that feed God’s flock, the people whom he shepherds; the keeping of the commandments is the fruit borne by the trees.
On this day is created the true man, the man made in the image and likeness of God. For this day the Lord has made is the beginning of this new world. Of this day the prophet says that it is not like other days, nor is this night like other nights. But still we have not spoken of the greatest gift it has brought us. This day destroyed the pangs of death and brought to birth the firstborn of the dead.
I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God. O what wonderful good news! He who for our sake became like us in order to make us his brothers, now presents to his true Father his own humanity in order to draw all his kindred up after him.
This excerpt from an Easter sermon by Saint Gregory of Nyssa (Oratio 1 in Christi resurrectionem: Jaeger IX, 277-280, 305) that speaks of Easter or Pascha as the first day of the New Creation is used in the Roman Office of Readings on Monday of the fifth week of Easter with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Revelation 19:11-21. It reflects on the phrase from Psalm 118 “This is the Day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
For more resources for the Easter Season, see the EASTER section of the Crossroads Initiative Library.
For more on Palm Sunday and Holy Week, see the Resurrection section of the Crossroads Initiative Library.